February 6 was the anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth. It comes at an appropriate time. February is also the month of Presidents Day and the birthday of Lincoln, the other Republican standard-bearer. Every Republican presidential candidate tries to claim the mantle of Reagan: “I believe as Ronald Reagan believed….”
Well, what did Ronald Reagan believe? It’s a question I get often. I’ve been giving a lecture titled, “What is a Reagan conservative?” I’ll be giving it again at the CPAC conference on Feb. 11 and our Center for Vision & Values conference in April. In that lecture, I lay out the core fundamentals of “Reagan conservatism.”
Some of those fundamentals have special relevance in light of the ongoing scandal known as the “Obama mandate;” that is, President Obama’s unprecedented “healthcare” decree mandating that all Americans—including Catholics and Catholic organizations—forcibly pay for contraception, sterilization, and birth-control drugs that cause abortions. Two core Reagan fundamentals stand out: 1) Reagan’s belief in the sanctity and dignity of human life; and 2) Reagan’s thoughts on the “idea” of America.
On the first, Reagan insisted that without the right to life, there can be no other rights. The right to life is the first of all freedoms, without which other freedoms literally cannot exist. “My administration is dedicated to the preservation of America as a free land,” said Reagan in 1983. “And there is no cause more important for preserving that freedom than affirming the transcendent right to life of all human beings, the right without which no other rights have any meaning.”
For Reagan, that right to life began in the womb. It began at conception. As president, Reagan supported a Human Life Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would have inserted into the Constitution these words: “the paramount right to life is vested in each human being from the moment of fertilization without regard to age, health or condition of dependency.” He favored providing every human being—at all stages of development—protection as “persons” with the “right to life” under the 14th Amendment.
That amendment never passed. Too bad. It would have killed Obama’s mandate, or at least posed a significant challenge.
In addition, Reagan extolled America as a country based on timeless, eternal values: on universal, God-given inalienable rights. Reagan gave innumerable statements on these rights, but I’m struck by one he gave way back in June 1952 at tiny William Woods College in Missouri.
There, Reagan said that America is “less of a place than an idea,” a place that resided deep in our souls. “It is simply the idea,” said Reagan, “the basis of this country and of our religion, the idea of the dignity of man, the idea that deep within the heart of each one of us is something so God-like and precious that no individual or group has a right to impose his or its will upon the people so well as they can decide for themselves.”
Well, the Obama mandate imposes President Obama’s personal will upon all of the American people, and especially Catholics whose consciences dictate otherwise. The mandate violates something God-like and deep within the heart of religious believers who profess the dignity of man from the moment of conception—whose faith implores them not to violate that dignity. President Obama, via his fiat, has instructed certain believers not only to go against their conscience and Church’s teachings but to subsidize the transgression.
In another speech years later, in August 1983, Reagan referred to Americans’ inalienable rights as “corollaries of the great proposition, at the heart of Western civilization, that every … person is a ressacra, a sacred reality, and as such is entitled to the opportunity of fulfilling those great human potentials with which God has endowed man.”
For many Americans, their faith calls upon them to defend those persons, each one of which is a sacred reality that must be permitted to achieve the great human potential that is God’s hope for all of us.
This is what Ronald Reagan believed. The current president’s “healthcare” mandate is a flagrant rejection of these principles.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared at CatholicVote.org.
The Moral Liberal Guest Writer, Dr. Paul G. Kengor, is professor of political science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and author of the newly released DUPES: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century. His other books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism, and God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life.